What is TMJ/TMD?
TMJ refers to the temporomandibular joint. TMD refers to temporomandibular disease. Basically, this refers to any issues or pain with the jaw.
My Experience with TMJ/TMD
I’ve had issues with TMJ since I was 16 years old. I originally complained to my dentist of mild jaw pain at this age, which led to me getting my wisdom teeth removed (which didn’t solve the problem). Since then, I’ve tried every type of specialist and treatment in the book to treat TMJ. I’ve tried dentists, ENT specialists, periodontists for bite splints, chiropractors, physical therapists, massage therapy, yoga, and more. I’ve even considered jaw surgery as an option, but have decided that for now, with all of the complications that can come from surgery, it might cause more problems than actually solve them.
All that to say, some of these things worked great, some not so much. Whether you have occasional mild jaw pain or severe TMJ problems, these tips can help relax your jaw and improve its function. Here are some of the best tips I’ve picked up along the way to improve TMJ!
6 Ways to Improve TMJ
- Physical Therapy. Nothing has helped me more than seeing a qualified expert to learn about the TMJ muscles, how they work and what I can do myself to treat the pain. If you don’t have access to PT, there’s a ton of information online about physical therapy exercises you can do free at home! There are simple stretches that made a HUGE difference for me!
- TMJ Massage. If you don’t have access to quality physical therapy or just want a “quick fix” for the jaw, TMJ massage is your answer! While it can be hard to find massage therapists who are trained in TMJ massage or are willing to put on gloves and massage the jaw from the inside (this really helps me), it’s worth finding a good massage therapist that you can go to for those times of crisis when your jaw is in real pain! For anyone in the Ann Arbor area, my favorite place to get TMJ massages is Ann Arbor Massage & Bodywork.
- Massage Balls. For at home jaw therapy, I definitely recommend purchasing massage balls such as these. While many people use foam rollers to treat sore muscles, using balls on the neck and upper back can really help! For me at least, I’ve found that tightness in my neck and shoulders are closely related to jaw pain, so using these types of pressure balls can really help. I’ve also tried some with more of a triangle shape to release the muscles at more of an angle, but these are more intense.
- Heating and Cooling. This TheraPeal Neck Wrap has been a GODSEND for me! You can use any cold/hot muscle relief pack, or even a hot water bottle and a frozen bag of peas! Really- anything works. The point is to know when to ice the muscles and when to heat them. Whenever I do PT or get a TMJ massage, they always tell me to ICE then HEAT after because the muscles think they should be irritated which will result in inflammation, so the ice reduces inflammation, BUT too much ice can tense them, so the heat relaxes them.
- Yoga and Meditation. While this might sound strange at first, I’ve found regularly practicing yoga and meditation to be extremely helpful. The reason for this is that while in yoga classes, teachers will often say reminders to relax your jaw and your facial muscles. Similarly, while I meditate, I try to actively unfurrow my brow, relax my jaw and the muscles around my eyes. So often we spend our entire day running around tightening and engaging our facial muscles and this can be really stressful on the jaw. I know I clench my jaw when in stressful situations and often while I’m working. In addition, at parties and social events – especially for those of us with Resting Bitch Face (#RBF), I find myself constantly smiling. Which, don’t get me wrong, is a great thing – BUT, it’s tiring! Can we just start a movement to accept RBF once and for all?
- Bite Splint. I put this last because I’ve had limited success with bite splints. While a bite splint is commonly the first thing people get to treat TMJ after being diagnosed and many people have had success with them, I’ve had my ups and downs with them. I’ve had several bite splints over the years and still have one to this day sitting on my nightstand. However, I find them incredibly difficult to fall asleep with. When I am able to fall asleep with one in, I usually wake up to find it buried in the sheets somewhere. All that said, not all bite splints are equal. I do want to try a SOFT bite splint in the near future. If you’re someone who has also struggled with bite splints being uncomfortable or painful, a soft bite splint might be a good option for you as well!